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By Maureen Littlejohn
When winter comes calling, your first inclination might be to hibernate. But there’s another option that can get your blood racing, cheeks rosy and boost vitamin D consumption. Skiing in Canada is magnificent. In fact, people come from all over the world to swoosh down our slopes, breathe in the crisp, clean air and marvel at our snow capped peaks.
Here are four of the best places to snap on a pair of skis and enjoy sun-filled, snowy runs. Whether you are learning on the bunny hills, or tackling extreme backcountry challenges, these resorts provide opportunities for all levels of skiers. And then there’s the après ski socializing –sitting beside a roaring fire with a steaming mug of chocolate (or something stronger), relaxing in an outdoor hot tub as snowflakes dazzle the sky, or sitting down to a delicious gourmet meal with friends and family. Winter is a fact of life in Canada. When those first flakes start to fly, plan to go skiing and watch your frown of resignation melt into beams of pleasure.
BANFF – Sunshine Village
Just 90-minutes drive from Calgary, Sunshine Village sits high (at an altitude of 2,200 metres) on the Continental Divide in the heart of Banff National Park. This is Canada’s first national park and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Three majestic mountains grace the skyline, there are up to nine metres of snow in a season and the town of Banff is an easy 15 minutes away. The bucket-list opportunity for skiers here is being able to zip through two provinces, Alberta and British Columbia, in one run. The seven-month season stretches from early November until late May and is the longest non-glacial season in Canada.
The options are almost endless with 3,300 acres of skiable terrain ranging from gentle beginner courses to extreme big mountain runs. Beginners can test their skills in the Mighty Mite learning zone while intermediate skiers take the Continental Divide Express to Lookout Mountain and ski two provinces in one run. Experts enjoy the challenge of Goat’s Eye double black runs off the 2590-metre Goat’s Eye express lift and backcountry adventurers can check out Delirium Dive or Wild West. The runs are serviced by 12 lifts, including nine superlifts, and a high-speed gondola.
At Sunshine Mountain Lodge guests are the first ones on the slopes in the morning since it is the only ski-in, ski-out hotel in Banff National Park. The lodge features a rustic mountain décor, there’s casual and fine dining, and for the après ski crowd, there’s a large hot tub and family-friendly activities.
Take the Sea to Sky Highway 120 km north from Vancouver and in a little more than one-and-a-half hours you’ll be in the town of Whistler. Once there, you can hit the Village of Whistler a pedestrian-only neighbourhood with a collection of chalets, shops and restaurants at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
Consistently rated as North America’s number one ski resort, Whistler Blackcomb is one of the largest ski resorts in North America and combines skiing in two huge mountain areas. Originally Blackcomb Mountain, and Whistler Mountains were separate resorts, but they joined as one in 1997 and now feature the ultra fast, Guinness World Record Breaking Peak 2 Peak Gondola. In 2010 the resort gained global recognition when its Olympic Park was a venue for the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.For those that want to try other snow-bound activities, the area offers dog sledding, winter ziplining, a tube park, snowshoeing, ice skating and sleigh rides.
Hotels are located at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain, throughout Whistler Village and in Whistler Creekside Village. Every budget and travel need is covered, from the reasonable Listel Hotel Whistler to luxury options including the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, Fairmont Chateau Whistler and One Blackcomb Place a six-star boutique hotel, residence and club. For those keen to hit the slopes, a bonus of staying in the pedestrian village is being able to ski-in and ski-out.
Mont Tremblant Ski Resort is around 130 km northwest of Montreal. The summit is at an elevation of 875 metres which makes it one of the tallest peaks in the Laurentian Mountains. The mountain and resort are part of the Mont-Tremblant National Park and on site is a pedestrian village of shops, restaurants and hotels featuring architecture reminiscent of traditional Quebec homes and businesses. The town of Mont-Tremblant is around five km away.
The main resort has more than 600 acres of ski and snowboarding trails. There are 96 marked downhill trails (the longest is 6 km) equally divided into easy, intermediate and difficult runs. The intermediate trails include four snow parks. The runs are serviced by 13 lifts, consisting of two gondolas, five detachable chairlifts, three regular chairlifts and three magic carpets (snow-level conveyor belts). An open-air gondola, or cabriolet lift, is used to transport skiers above the village from the parking lot to the bottom of the mountain. If you get hungry at the top of the hill, Grand Manitou summit lodge restaurant offers spectacular views. If you get an itch to gamble between runs, there’s a casino located at the base of some of the trails. Other winter activities in the area include cross-country skiing, dogsledding, downhill skiing and ski schools, helicopter tours, ice-climbing, ice fishing, ice skating, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and tubing.
Mont Tremblant has a wide variety of hotel and condo accommodations, many of which are situated in the pedestrian village. There are additional condo and chalet accommodations located adjacent to the pedestrian village which are managed by the resort’s rental agency or other private rental agencies.
Mont-Sainte-Anne is about 40 km northeast of Quebec City in the Laurentian Mountains. A wide mix of terrain that ranges from beginner to advanced. a summit elevation of 800 meters above sea level with a vertical drop of 625 meters. There are 71 trails covering 71 km on three different sides of the mountain, and 19 trails covering 15.2 km are available for night skiing on the highest vertical for night skiing in Canada. The average natural snowfall at the summit is 475 cm.
In 1967 the first Canadian Winter Games were held at Mont-Sainte-Anne and the resort has hosted World Cup alpine races and the Junior World Championships three times.
Mont-Sainte-Anne’s Cross-Country Ski Centre features 212 km of trails, including a 125 km network for skating stride, which makes it the largest cross-country ski centre in Canada, and the second most significant in North America (after Royal Gorge, California).
The resort is host to multiple other winter activities including, snowshoeing, dog sledding, paragliding, sleigh rides and ice skating.
There are a wide range of nearby accommodations, including hotels, condos and chalets. For four-star luxury, the Chateau Mont-Sainte-Anne is a popular choice because it is a mere four-minute walk to the slopes.